By Adam Clayton, Columbia-Greene Media; Originally published in the Hudson Register Star
Don’t tell Marc Gronich there’s no sense of Jewish community in upstate New York — because he’s got the data and cultural map to prove otherwise.
Gronich is the owner and operator of www.jbiztechvalley. com, a website specifically created to showcase the Jewish community in what he refers to as the “greater Capital District area.”
J Biz Tech Valley is a website resource for Jews to find businesses owned and operated by fellow Jewish community members, businesses that cater to Jewish culture, synagogues and places to worship, and educational opportunities.
His website began as a project focusing on Albany County, but he expanded it further and further, and has recently compiled a database of Jewish culture and Jewish-owned businesses in Greene and Columbia counties. He said he looked at what counties are covered by news stations in Albany, and based his Capital District area map off of that information. Many members of the Jewish community work in Albany but live further north or further south, and he wanted to make sure they didn’t feel excluded.
The website concept all stemmed from a conversation Gronich had with his former rabbi when he visited his hometown of Brooklyn in the 1980s. Gronich moved to the Albany area in 1980.
“I went home and visited my childhood rabbi. He asked me why I would move away from Brooklyn — which has a strong Jewish community — to a place with virtually none,” Gronich said. “So I responded to his question by emphatically saying there was a strong Jewish community in the Albany area. Then I went and listed all the places and reasons why that’s true — I proved my point.”
Gronich said that was not the first time he’d been asked to prove how Albany has a sense of Jewish community. It was a question that he answered frequently, and eventually he realized if he was being asked numerous times to prove Jewish culture existed in Albany, others must be asking the same thing, but they probably didn’t know who to ask.
Gronich originally moved to Albany to pursue a career in journalism — something he’s been doing for more than 32 years. He currently works for Statewide News Service.
After a number of years and a long list of times he’s proven the Capital District’s Jewish culture, he realized the best way to disseminate information was using the Internet.
“Ten years ago you couldn’t do this. Internet technology was available but it wasn’t nearly as savvy as today,” Gronich said. Gronich said he got most of the listings for his site using data mining. A lot of the merchants and synagogues he found on LinkedIn. He is also a member of the Jewish Federation, which allowed him to network with Jewish-owned and Jewish culture-catering businesses.
He said whenever he’d see a new Jewish business pop up on LinkedIn or through another site, he’d immediately contact them and put them on his website. He said the Jewish Federation website has some listings of businesses, but he wanted a more complete picture of Jewish culture in the district.
Gronich receives no revenue from the website. He stated even if he ever had an inkling to try and raise revenue through advertising space on his site, he felt he’d be taking revenue away from fellow Jews. The Jewish World is a weekly newspaper out of Albany that caters to the Jewish community, but at a smaller scale than Gronich’s website. He said that paper relies solely on advertising revenue, and if he took even a small portion of it away from it by offering ad space on his site, he’d put them out of business.
“This website is my gift to the Jewish community, presently,” Gronich said. He plans to implement upgraded profiles for businesses that would have added perks and more prominent listings in 2014 at $15 a month. The revenue from that would go solely for website maintenance and upkeep.
He said another reason he wanted to make the website was the New York state/Albany collaboration with Israel over nanotechnology. According to Gronich, an influx of Israeli citizens will be in the Capital District, and he wanted to provide them with a road map to their culture here.
Gronich is referring to an agreement signed March 6, 2013 by the University at Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) and the Israeli Industry Center for Research & Development. That agreement will give Israeli researchers access to CNSE’s laboratories and the companies that are tenants there, while helping CNSE and New York accelerate the growth of the high-tech industry in the Capital Region and statewide.
Gronich said he couldn’t imagine traveling from an area of the world with a very predominant Jewish culture to a country that is so diverse.
“It might be hard to find a kosher deli, or it might be hard to find somewhere to worship or a Hebrew school for your child to attend,” he said. He hoped his website would alleviate any frustrations in such a search for a transplanted Israeli Jew.
Beyond trying to help his community, the website has allowed Gronich to experience first hand aspects of Jewish culture he hadn’t yet explored outside of Albany county.
During the summer of 2013, Gronich took Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, on a tour of some Greene County synagogues in Hunter and Tannersville. One of the highlights of the summer trek were Hunter’s and Tannersville’s Torahs and other cultural artifacts.
“All the Torahs, the Holy Scrolls, the Five Books of Moses in Hebrew — that is handwritten by a scribe — are encased in a bank safe for security reasons. Each Torah costs between $30,000 and $50,000,” said Gronich.
Lopez confirmed that he did indeed make the trek. “It was a cool experience to explore another culture and I got a great sense of one of the communities I serve. It was a great engagement and helped me realize the priorities of our ever-growing Jewish community,” Lopez said.
One of the Columbia County businesses that really impressed Gronich was Hudson’s Park Falafel, which is supervised by a Rabbi. Brian Herman owns Park Falafel, but said Gronich dealt mostly with Rabbi Daniel Fried — the man in charge of keeping things kosher.
“He was a great fellow and I applaud what he is trying to do for our community,” Fried said of Gronich.
Fried, who has lived in Greenport for three decades, took a moment to clarify that in order to have something kosher, it does not need to be blessed by a Rabbi, which is a common misconception. He said for something to be blessed, that makes it Hallel. His duties are more aligned with an inspector, making sure no non-Kosher ingredients are ever used at Park Falafel.
Gronich said there are different levels of kosher and different levels of Jewish conservatism, and that his website caters to every different Jew and their paths.
“This is for secular Jews and orthodox Jews. This is for non-practicing Jews who still want to experience some of the culture they grew up with,” Gronich said.
Gronich has mapped 16 counties of New York. In 2014, he’s pushing further south into Ulster and Dutchess counties. He also plans to incorporate more social media in 2014.
“We have a Facebook and a Twitter, but I haven’t started tweeting yet,” he said.
Also in 2014, Gronich will be working heavily on his “News Jews can use” section of his website. He plans to list any major news story that may affect the Jewish community, and plans to reach out to Jewish community leaders and Rabbis to get their comment on the story, to make it that much more relevant to his website’s readers.
“I have a list of 10,000 email addresses to members of the Jewish community in all 16 counties. Anytime a pertinent story comes up I plan to mass email all of them for comments and feedback, to include on the site,” he said.
Fried said in recent years there has been an influx of Jewish merchants and that being able to showcase them on Gronich’s site is a blessing to the community.
“Many of the antique stores are Jewish-owned. Columbia County’s Jewish community is ever expanding, it’s nice to find it all listed neatly on one site,” Fried said.
Gronich, meanwhile, will continue scouring the Internet for new community members to add to his site and will continue his own personal journey of discovering Jewish heritage and culture in all the counties of New York.
JBizTechValley.com is a production of Statewide News Service Inc. Business owners and places of worship who are not listed can contact Gronich through the website and to have their information added.
To reach reporter Adam Clayton, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2513, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
JBizTechValley.com is designed to be a road map detailing what our area offers in terms of yiddishkeit. This online directory is designed to serve three purposes:
There are more than 20,000 Jews living in the 16 counties comprising the greater Capital District, mostly centered in Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady counties. We are the largest Jewish community between Monsey (Rockland County) and Montreal. We are a diverse, strong, lively and energetic community breaking new ground in everything from retail to medicine, from technology to innovative ways of doing business.
This area boasts more than 50 congregations, 600 Jewish business owners, Jewish-run not-for-profits and many Jewish educational opportunities from preschool to adult education classes.
The website provides information about area businesses, congregations, Jewish education and Jewish-run not-for-profits, as well as original-content news stories.
— Information from JBizTechValley.com/about-us